The Roman fort at Bibra formed part of the ‘Western Sea Defences’, a line of forts and watch-towers strung along the north-western coastline of Cumbria; a western extension of Hadrian’s Wall. The fort was seen as cropmarks and mapped from air photographs showing very clear internal details. Roads are seen leading out of the north and south gates for approximately 240 metres in both directions; a shorter length of road (19 metres), is also seen just beyond the expected position of the east gate. To either side of the northern road are the probable remains of the vicus. Excavation in 1879-80 indicated occupation of the site from the 2nd to the 4th century.
Classical References for Bibra
The sole classical geographical source for the Roman name of the Beckfoot fort is the Bribra entry in the Ravenna Cosmology (R&C#119), which appears between the list entries for Alauna (Maryport) and Maglona (Old Carlisle).
The Bibra Garrison
To date, only one inscribed stone has been uncovered from Roman Beckfoot, which fortunately provides the name of one of its garrison units; Cohors II Pannoniorum, a five-hundred strong infantry unit from the province of Pannonia, the region of the modern Czech Republic.
RIB880 - Inscription
The military cemetery attached to the Beckfoot fort was the site of several notable cremation burials. The usual practice was to cremate the body of the deceased upon a funeral pyre, after which the ashen remains would be collected together, placed in a funerary vessel and then buried in a consecrated spot. The burials here were essentially of this type, except that the funeral pyre was sited within a shallow pit which was later used to house the burial urn. The charred remains of one particular fire-pit burial provided evidence of such quality that the excavator was able to state that the deceased was laid upon a feather-stuffed mattress on an oak bedstead, and that the wood used for the funeral pyre was pine.
Other burials of this type have been identified at Viroconium (Wroxeter, Shropshire).
Numsimatic Evidence from Beckfoot
Only nine coins are recorded here, ranging from 2 coppers of Trajan – one (R.I.C. 411) apparently washed-up on the beach in 1985 – to a single copper of Constantius II, including a small hoard of 3 coins, one each of Julia Domna (201AD), Caracalla (213AD) and Valerian (235-9AD).
References for Bibra
- The Roman Inscriptions of Britain by R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (Oxford 1965);
- Roman Coins from North-West England by David Shotter (Lancaster 1990) p.49;